The Next Best Thing
Published by Atria Books
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes
I'm going to tell you fine people right up front: I have a MAJOR girl crush on Jennifer Weiner. Like, MAJOR. Ever since Good in Bed, I have lapped up her books like a chocoholic at a Godiva sale.
The Next Best Thing (not to be confused with the Kristan Higgins book with the same title) is FABULOUS, and I would think that even if I didn't know that Jennifer Weiner wrote it.
Ruth Saunders is nearing 30 and still living with her grandmother. It's a comfortable arrangement sprung from tragedy: Ruth's parents died when she was a little girl, and the accident that killed them left Ruth with a host of broken bones, including some on her face. The ensuing surgeries have marked her, both outwardly (the left side of her face is wracked with scars) and inwardly. Ruth fears she will never be beautiful.
Not that she lets such worries consume her. After graduating from college, Ruth and her grandma head west, where Ruth toils in obscurity as an assistant to a television writer. When her attempt at a romance with her boss goes horribly awry (as those things tend to do), she quits, eventually landing a job with Big Dave and Little Dave, a pair of writers who value her intellect and input. In true Ruthie form, she finds herself crushing on Little Dave, himself a victim of an accident that left him in a wheelchair.
As a Hollywood satire, this is close to brilliant. Ruthie writes a script that is picked up for a television series, only to be completely warped and revised to suit the network. Yes, she occasionally is powerless to the point of being spineless, but if we ask ourselves what we might have done differently, we might realize that we would have gotten fired over that response. Ruth is a survivor, whether from the accident or her treatment by Hollywood. She will do what must be done to get her show on the air, even if it involves selling chunks of her creative soul.
This also is a romance, and not just between Ruthie and the man she loves. There is the romance between Ruthie and her grandma, which is beautiful and touching. Grandma is not a wacky, salty old broad, straight out of Central Casting. She is a vibrant woman with her own interests, and her love of and devotion to Ruthie actually warmed my cold hard heart. Even so, she has her own life, one that occasionally eclipses her granddaughter's.
Oh, how I cried while reading this. I wept over Ruthie's fears of being alone. I wept over her loss of control over her television show. I wept over her feelings toward Little Dave. I cried like a drunk at a wedding, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Jennifer Weiner writes with such realism and heart that I defy you not to fall in love with Ruthie (and maybe Jennifer Weiner too).
Although most of us cannot relate to Hollywood's endless cycle of selling out, we nonetheless can see ourselves in Ruthie and her quest to make something of herself and find someone who loves her. She is not perfect; she makes terrible mistakes, underestimates herself, and misreads all manner of situations. But she keeps trying. She never gives up, not on herself or her dreams. When she admits to Little Dave her sadness over her scars, you don't need to be a sitcom veteran to empathize with her.
But you do need to have some tissues handy, because she will break your heart. In a good way, I promise.